Saturday, 18 August 2018

Tartan Through A Straw


Clydebank  2  Rossvale  1

Scottish Juniors Western Region – League Cup

Scottish football intrigues me.

You’ve got the Seniors, who are what we might term semi-professionals, and these can typically be found in the lower reaches of the Scottish Football League and down into the Lowland and Highland League’s, plus also the East and South of Scotland League’s.

You’ve then got the Juniors, who are operating under a completely separate jurisdiction, outside of the footballing pyramid, but, arguably in many cases you’ve got the better players, earning very good money, playing for teams that attract better attendances, albeit at stadiums that don’t fall under the same strict grading rules.

Juniors In Action
To try and put this into some context, the top Junior sides would include Auchinleck Talbot, Beith, Linlithgow Rose and Bonnyrigg Rose for example, they would attract better attendances than sides in Scottish League Two and Three, and since they’ve been admitted to the Scottish FA Cup, which only finally happened in 2005, they’ve had some impressive results.

Linlithgow Rose reached the Fourth Round in 2007-08, while in 2009-10 Irvine Meadow became the first Junior side to beat a League club with victory over Arbroath. Linlithgow went on to beat Forfar Athletic in 2015-16, while in 2016-17 Bonnyrigg Rose recorded a fantastic victory over second tier side Dumbarton away from home.

Bo’ness United have also recorded a couple of victories over League outfits, and to a certain extent these results are probably not huge shocks, and might explain why there was resistance to the Juniors mixing it with the Seniors on a national level.

Maryhill
The Juniors have re-organised over recent seasons and have now created something of a more structured system, based around three regions, namely Northern, Eastern and the strongest of them all, the Western. But that is where it ends, progression beyond winning the top tier of your Region was non-existent, but things are changing, especially in the Eastern Region where at the end of last season we saw an exodus of clubs move to the East of Scotland League, which in turns provides a potential route to the very top. Kelty Hearts for example have designs on reaching the Scottish Football League, and you wouldn’t bet against that. Is that likely in the Western Region? Not sure, but what I do know is that Clydebank, who currently top the tree, have made noises about applying to jump in 2019-20.

Elevated Viewing
Clydebank then, blimey, when I was a lad and acquired my first Panini sticker album, the boys from New Kilbowie Park featured. For two seasons in the mid-eighties they were a Scottish Premier League outfit, but it was pretty much downhill after that, losing the iconic all-seater ground and eventually being swallowed up into the entity that was Airdrie United. Airdrie United came about after Airdrieonians folded, but a number of years later and the former name was restored.

Undeterred, the faithful fans of Clydebank, and that included the lads from Wet Wet Wet, set about re-forming the club and for their first season, based out of Duntocher, they played in the Scottish Supporters League. The following season they joined the Western Region Juniors and playing in front of four figure crowds they started to progress. In 2008 they moved in with Yoker Athletic and reached the Junior Cup Final, taking almost 6,000 fans to Kilmarnock, only to lose out to Talbot.

The Covered Terrace
The top flight was reached in 2011, but relegation followed, only for them to return in 2015 where they remain. At the start of this season they moved across town to share with Maryhill while Yoker’s Holm Park undergoes improvements.

With my monthly trip to Glasgow in the diary, it was time to look at the fixtures and the game between the Bankies and Rossvale jumped out at me, simply because of the history of Clydebank FC, and of course, the fact they are still very well supported.

Maryhill’s Lochburn Park is easily reached by a train from Glasgow Queen Street, you alight ten minutes later at Gilschochill and after a ten minute walk you are at the ground. Surrounded by industry and commerce on the edge of the busy main road that leads into the City, the area around 
Lochburn Park is a busy place. I took refreshments in Harvey’s opposite the ground, where the site of an old fella drinking a pint of Tartan through a straw restored my faith in humanity!

Urban
What a belter of stadium it is. Like many Junior grounds, it’s trapped in time, but bursting with character. From the old ornate gates that sit aside the turnstiles, you walk in and what you’ve effectively got is a pitch that is almost sunken, with the terraces and buildings sat high above the surface. The Social Club is to the right, while in front of that and up the touchline is a section of elevated terracing the backs onto a building, the purpose of which I couldn’t tell you.

The top goal is out of bounds but attached to this is a rack of elevated seating in blue and red, uncovered, that’s clearly seen better days. Opposite is a covered terrace that is very unique in its construction, in the sense that the style of the cladding makes it look and feel like some sort of industrial unit loading bay! The roof shape as well is also not something commonly seen. The bottom goal is hard standing that slopes from the turnstile end down to the far corner flag.

Out Of Bounds
The ground also has something that isn’t overly common at Junior grounds, floodlights. Midweek football is relatively rare in the Juniors (apart from the opposite ends of the season), and come winter games kick off at 1.45pm. Again, this is something that very much distinguishes the Junior from the Senior.

As for the game, it was entertaining and of a very good standard. Despite it being a League Cup tie, I would estimate around 250 were in attendance, and the opening goal came in the eighth minute when Del Hepburn scored a screamer with his right foot.

Rossvale, another Glasgow based side from Bishopbriggs, who compete in the second tier of the 
Western Region having won promotion last season, were certainly not second best and having missed good chances in the first period, deservedly equalised in the 73rd minute when Chris Zok converted a penalty. It was the least Rossvale deserved on balance of play.

Unusual
However, as the game moved into the closing stages a mis-placed back pass found Steven Higgins who poked the ball home for the Bankies winner. They managed to hold on and moved into the Quarter Final where they meet Petershill. In fairness to Rossvale though, they will be gutted because for me they matched Clydebank all the way.

So that was another very enjoyable night in the Juniors, and by making the first available train back at the station it was back into the centre of Glasgow for ten past nine. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find any more Junior football now as we move into the darker nights, which will be a shame.

But, with change on the horizon and already under way in some cases, the Junior football landscape is going to start to look very different. That change does appear less likely in the stronger Western Region, but with Bankies one of the names believed to be keen on a jump to the Seniors, presumably with a view of a return to the Scottish League ranks, it’s very much one to keep an eye on. Talk suggests the top flight of the West could simply be re-named ‘en-masse’ the Seniors, and therefore join the Pyrmaid, but I suspect it’s not that simple.

It never is, is it?

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Pushing The Boundaries


Magna 73  6  Magna 73 Reserves  1

Friendly

I can’t recall at any time in all my years of watching football, taking in a game where a first team played the reserves.

But there is a first time for everything, and I’m of the view that football has no boundaries, except of course women’s football and walking football, two activities that I simply have no interest in from a spectator perspective. Nothing against either, but I’ve made the choice not to view them. I did watch some dwarf football online once, purely because my mate Steve was interested and I wanted to check it out on his behalf, for research purposes, so I’m not a complete sexist / ageist / bigoted football viewer, just a man of narrow-ish tastes!

The Clubhouse
So, I saw newly promoted Magna 73, who will be gracing the Leicestershire Senior League for the first time this season after numerous attempts to get in, had a home fixture, against themselves, so I thought I’d go and have a look.

Playing at Meadow Park on Leicester Road in Countesthorpe, the ground is nice and easy to find, set in a very rural location. Meadow Park is a large complex, and works as an umbrella organisation for Magna 73, Oadby & Wigston Ladies and the local cricket club. They are blessed with three pitches at the complex and Magna generate revenue by hiring out the surfaces, notably on Sunday’s and during pre-season when other pitches are not ready for use, or simply not readily available.

They’ve played pre-season games so far away from the main pitch to protect it, but tonight, they were playing on the showpiece pitch which is a railed affair with newly built dugouts. The pitch itself is in superb condition but as the two gents from the club told me, they’ve invested in it and worked hard on it over the Summer, despite the tough conditions.

Dugouts - In The Distance
They have a large clubhouse on the complex which is available for hire, so in many ways Magna are blessed with a further source of revenue generation. Magna struck me as a well-run, prudent and sensibly managed club with a number of volunteers who have the club at heart. It’s a great model, and it seems to be working.

Magna 73, were formed in 1973 (I managed to work that one out without asking anyone!), so they are 45 years old this year, not unlike myself, almost! I’m not sure where the Magna bit comes from, as I’m struggling to find a place of the same name on my Leicester A-Z, but someone somewhere will know the answer. They didn’t win the Leicester & District League last season but they were successful in getting promotion anyway, so clearly tails are up and enthusiasm is high at Meadow Park, and so it should be.

One of the problems of watching a first team against reserves game is the fact that while the kits may be a different colour, they have the same badges. So it took me a while to work out who was who. To be fair though, in the opening fifteen minutes there wasn’t that much in it, but by half time the first team had a 2-0 lead and it was their finishing prowess that saw them in-front.

Lush
The goals came at regular intervals in the second period, a further four to be precise and the difference was the final ball and the finishing. The reserves certainly competed, but in the final third it was a very different story. The ressies did pull a goal back with almost the last kick of the game, but it was of no consequence to be fair.

So, a strange one to be truthful, two teams who obviously know each other very well, effectively team mates, taking each other on, but it definitely had a competitive edge, and while the referee had a very comfortable night of it, it was officiated by a proper man in black as opposed to a club representative.

Women - Kids - Oldies - Reserves - Friendlies - Dwarfs - It Takes All Sorts
I feel a bit bad now, I feel like I’ve taken a swipe at women’s and walking football, but it wasn’t meant to be a dig against either, it was purely me expressing my preferences. I know people who will quite happily watch ladies football, but won’t watch youth football of any kind, reserves or friendly games though, so I suppose it is each to their own. We all have our quirks and foibles

Steve and his passion for dwarf football though, now that is a bit special…………………..

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Rock And A Hard Place


Glasshoughton Rock  0  Shelley Reserves  1

West Yorkshire League – Second Division

I’m not overly familiar with Castleford, or Cas-Vegas as it’s is more commonly known in West Yorkshire, situated just a couple of miles from its sparring partner of Pontefract which of course is better known as Ponte Carlo.

The first time I encountered the West Yorkshire town would have been back in the mid-Nineties when Belper Town played at Glasshoughton Welfare, and I seem to think we won 1-0 thanks to a Paul Gretton goal. The memories are a bit hazy and to be honest if you asked me to describe the place I would struggle.

About ten years ago I went through a phase of watching Rugby League, a phase that resurfaced again this Summer, and a mate of mine decided we ought to go to Wheldon Road to watch Castleford Tigers play. Blimey, I’ll not forget that in a hurry though, ‘The Jungle’ as it’s now known is a classic old school sports stadium and with a packed house in attendance they drew 22-22 with Wigan Warriors. The pubs before the game around the ground were heaving and the buzz was fantastic.

Since then, our paths have not crossed since, probably because that area around the M62 corridor is dominated by Rugby League, with football very much a secondary sport. That said, Pontefract Collieries won the Northern Counties East League last season and are now a Northern Premier League side, Glasshoughton Welfare still ply their trade in the NCEL, but otherwise you are talking a couple of clubs in the West Yorkshire League, namely Kellingley Welfare and Featherstone Colliery.

Ferrybridge Power Station
Another name entered the fray though over the course of the Summer, The Rock Inn, a pub side from the town, won the Wakefield League last season, were admitted to the West Yorkshire League, but to comply with league rules, they couldn’t be named after a pub, hence the name change to Glasshoughton Rock. They also found a new facility in the shape of the Townville Sports Club which had a football pitch and dressing rooms sitting adjacent to the cricket ground, and of course the impressive clubhouse. It was ready made for a side looking to progress.

With a limited choice of options on Saturday due to a number of leagues having not yet started, it seemed like the ideal place to go to. The club is very active on Facebook so the game was confirmed nice and early, and despite some problems on the A1, it was a steady hours trip North.

So, what is Townville all about? Located to the East of the centre of Castleford, it offers views further East towards the Ferrybridge Power Station which dominates the skyline in the area. The ground is on a housing estate and a good sized car park leads to a social club that appears to serve both the sporting clubs that play at the complex, and also the locality. A party was taking place as I arrived in a large function suite opposite the bar area.

View From The West Bank
A cricket match was taking place just outside, I have no idea what league or level it was at, but they had an electronic scoreboard so it must have been pretty decent! I’m useless when it comes to cricket by the way, I wouldn’t know the difference between Minor Counties and the local Scout Group so no point me elaborating on it!

Behind the cricket pitch, dropping off down a slope if the football field, which is roped down one side but banked on two sides offering a decent elevated view. No cover, and no dugouts are in place, but it meets the grading and it has separate dressing room area that sit adjacent to the clubhouse.

Parched Pitch
As for the game, well I didn’t quite know what to expect. Rock are newly promoted and on something of a roll (rock & roll eh, get it?), whereas the reserves of Shelley are the second string of a side that has just gained promotion to the North West Counties League.

After a promising start by the hosts, the game evened out and it was the visitors who took the lead when a Shelley player found the net from close range having been given too much time and space to finish.

The second half saw both sides put in plenty of effort, but efforts on goal were at a premium, and to be fair, in the end it was the away side who seemed to be in control of proceedings.

Rock will see this as something of a learning curve, West Yorkshire League football is tough, but they have enough quality to come again having gained from the experience. They won’t be far away when it comes to the crunch, sides used to winning invariably find a way, but it won’t be a walk in the park.

As for football in Castleford, the more the merrier, the egg-chasing dominance is due for a challenge after years of having it all their own way. But let’s be honest, there will only ever be one winner, and you'll struggle to get any odds on that in Cas-Vegas!  

Cricket Sits Above At Townville


Sunday, 12 August 2018

Boynton & The Marsh


Boynton Sports  3  Rowsley 86  4

Friendly

You probably wouldn’t get away with it these days, but back in the mid-Nineties the small town of Killamarsh had a team in the Central Midlands League, and in their match programme they made a proud exclamation.

“The definition of a Killamarsh queer, a man who prefers women to beer!”

Clearly not the kind of comment that would pass any political correctness rulings modern society, but what it does do is tell you a little bit about a town that sits on the very South East edge of Sheffield, albeit just inside the border of Derbyshire. The ‘Marsh’ is a mining town but the last pits closed in the early Eighties, nowadays, like many former mining communities, regeneration has seen smaller Industrial Estates springing up as the prominent employers.

The Rural Marsh
The sports facilities at Killamarsh have always been very good, with the Juniors Club on Sheffield Road being the hub for both football and cricket at junior and senior levels. The football pitch has predominantly been used for Sunday and Ladies football over recent years, but Boynton Sports from the Sheffield County Senior League saw an opportunity to being Saturday football back to the town.

Boynton Sports Football Club were formed in 1952, and the name came from the fact that the club were based around the Devonshire Arms pub in Shirecliffe, and the road that runs alongside is Boynton Road. After a break from football they re-joined the County Senior League at the start of last season, plying their trade at Concord Leisure Centre on the artificial surface, but looking for a more suitable base was high on the agenda, so clearly Killamarsh ticked all of the boxes.

They finished third in the Second Division last season and that has earned them a promotion to the First Division for the current campaign, and like Kiveton Park the previous evening, their presence on social media is excellent so with pre-season friendlies and locations well advertised in advance, the opportunity to go and see them play Rowsley 86 in what promised to be an intriguing game presented itself.

The Edge Of The Plateau
The clubhouse at Killamarsh is excellent, as you would expect. It’s a huge single story building with several different rooms that can be utilised for various events and functions. Next to this are the dressing rooms, while at the opposite end of the building are the cricket facilities.

Directly in front of the clubhouse is the cricket field, while beyond that, set on something of a plateau is the railed off football pitch. The club employs a groundsman so everything is in tip top condition, although from talking to the chap behind the bar, it appears he wasn’t too keen on the match taking place tonight due to the hard and dry nature of the pitch.

I must admit I really like the whole set up. The clubhouse was nice and indeed welcoming (you don’t always get that at some members clubs), while I was impressed by the tidiness and picturesque nature of the football ground. Two sides of the ground while railed, are open, while the other two sides are hemmed in by trees. Spectators have full access to all sides, but if I were to have one slightly adverse comment about it, it would be the distance from the dressing rooms to the pitch, which involves a walk across the cricket field. But, Boynton Sports must be absolutely delighted to have managed to secure facilities as good as this, and quite rightly so.

The game was intriguing as both sides have been promoted since the end of last season, Boynton I’ve already commented on, whereas Rowsley won the Midlands Regional Alliance and have taken up a place in the Central Midlands League Division One North.

Railings
Rowsley set off at a pace and looked very impressive as they took a two goal lead inside the first half, and then as the game moved into the second period they got a third. Rowsley have won the MRA three times in four seasons and very much looked like a side that has played together for a long time, and more importantly, won together.

But, undeterred, Boynton never gave up and continued to try to play football, and not long after Rowsley’s third goal, after changing things round, they pulled a goal back, and then another, followed by the equaliser.

By now, any notion this game was a friendly was out of the window. Boynton desperately wanted to win it, Rowsley were rattled and didn’t want to lose it. The referee was forced to intervene on more than one occasion as passions ran high.

The Long Walk
However, in the closing moments it was Rowsley who capitalised on Boynton pushing men forward to grab the seventh goal of a hugely entertaining game and the winner. What a fantastic game of football, and a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle, the best game I’ve seen so far this pre-season.

I expect both sides to do absolutely fine this season as they both know how to play football, but as for Killamarsh, the pubs looked to be pretty empty as I drove away from the town, maybe the menfolk were all at home with their wives and girlfriends. Perhaps that is now far more socially acceptable than it was twenty five years ago when it was deemed to be deviant behaviour!

The Home Of Beer (Not Queer)


Saturday, 11 August 2018

Spirit


Kiveton Park  0  Oughtibridge War Memorial  1

Friendly

There’s something not quite right about Kiveton Park Football Club playing at a school.

That isn’t meant to be in the slightest bit disrespectful, it’s merely to highlight the fact that one of the oldest names in South Yorkshire football on the face of it looks to have been on the end of a raw deal.

Kiveton Park were formed in 1881, and in 1891 they were the first ever opponents of Chesterfield FC in the Sheffield & District League.  They became an established Yorkshire League club in the early Sixties after periods playing in local leagues, and it was while in the Yorkshire League that they had their most successful period.

They won promotion to the First Division on more than one occasion (and then quite often went down again!), lifted the Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior Cup, and become founder members of the Northern Counties East League.

They reached Division One of the NCEL in 1986 but ground grading issues at Hard Lane saw them eventually move into the Central Midlands League. The club gained promotion to the Supreme Division but when the colliery closed in 1994, the club went abeyance and didn’t reappear again until 1999, back in the CMFL.

The Supreme Division was once again reached but due to a lack of floodlights they were relegated. They won the Sheffield & Hallamshire Association Cup on two occasions and thanks to a split of the CMFL to North and South, they regained the Step 7 status that they previously lost due to the floodlight issue.


Travel costs proved too much in the CMFL and they then moved to the Sheffield County Senior League in 2013, but within three seasons they had moved from the Hard Lane ground which was owned by CISWO (Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation).

Local residents had begun to complain about the increased parking at the ground, largely due to the clubs multitude of junior sides. Furthermore, to receive grants the club needed to have charitable status, something that wasn’t possible while under the Miners Welfare umbrella.

Of course, and perhaps more worryingly for the club, CISWO indicated that they wanted to sell off the ground (like many others they owned) and to facilitate the football clubs departure they imposed a sharp increase in rent which forced the clubs hand somewhat.

So, they found a site at Wales High School, around a mile from Hard Lane, and set about putting in some temporary buildings. But, what is perhaps both surprising and galling for the club, is that no sooner had they moved out of Hard Lane, in came Renishaw Rangers, who in turn have developed the facilities. Read into that what you will, no slight on RRFC by the way……..


So, plying their trade in the First Division of the County Senior League, last year was far from smooth, and that was largely due to weather and the impact it had on the playing surface. For large periods games had to be played elsewhere as the pitch was simply a bog. I tried on numerous occasions to go and watch a game, but simply couldn’t get to one.

But, after commenting on social media last season that they would need significant sums of money to improve the drainage, I can only assume the issue has been resolved, or they are simply praying for better weather? Either way, with a very helpful and active Twitter account, they announced their pre-season games nice and early, and with a guarantee the pitch would be fine, it was as good a time as any to go and have a look.

For saying it’s a school pitch, it certainly doesn’t have that feel. For starters, the pitch is on the opposite side of the road to Wales High School, and the only buildings on the ground are the ones that have been put in place by the football club. This is certainly not your typical school playing field.

The buildings all sit down one side, containing dressing rooms and a tea bar, while the rest of the ground is simply a roped off pitch, but as it sits at the end of the road that leads to the school, it has a certain rural feel about it as you look out over the landscape.


As for the game, well Premier Division Oughtibridge War Memorial were the opponents, and it was the visitors who won the game 1-0, but in fairness there wasn’t an awful lot in it, certainly not in front of goal anyway.

Kiveton Park very much see Wales High School as ‘home’ and I think any notion of going back to Hard Lane has been dismissed. The club are gradually trying to develop the facilities and no doubt have designs on achieving Step 7 status via a promotion at the end of the current campaign.

It’s a real shame that they’ve had to go down this route though, and for the supporters, how galling must it be to see a cuckoo in what used to be their very own nest? It would have been easy to fold the club and call it a day, but the determined committee and supporters admirably went to great lengths to keep the club alive, and indeed develop and move forward.

But, one thing a South Yorkshire pit village will always have is spirit, spirit in abundance, we’ve seen that over the decades, and Kiveton Park is an absolute shining example of that. The football club deserves to survive and thrive, which it will……

Friday, 10 August 2018

Bucket List


Tiverton Town  4  Street  2

Friendly

“Tiverton Town”

That was my reply when a couple of months ago Mrs Hatt asked me which football ground in England I wanted to visit the most.

It took me a matter of seconds to answer, and it probably took her a little by surprise that it wasn’t something a little more glamorous for example, or maybe a little more obscure.

No, my mind was made up, and to be fair, it has been for many years now, but for the causal observer, the question will inevitably be ‘Why?’, and for some it may also be ‘So why have you not been before now?’

Ok, I will try and explain. Firstly, just why Tiverton Town.


It started in the mid-Nineties, the 1994-95 season to be precise. I had just left University and after a number of years of obsessing with all things Derby County, I had made the conscious decision to go back to my non-league roots, and in particular re-engage with the club our family has been entrenched with since the late Seventies, Belper Town.

I had a brief flirtation with Belper the season before, for the one and only game when I saw them lose to Taunton Town in the FA Vase, but the year after which coincided with my renewed interest, the club made it all the way to the Semi-Final of the Vase, only to lose to Oxford City.


One of the favourites for the Vase in 1994-95 was Tiverton Town, and the reason for that was they had reached the Quarter Final the year previously, and in the year prior to that they had made the Final only to lose to Bridlington Town. But another reason they were heavily fancied was the fact that in the previous seven seasons in the Western League they had finished 3rd / 2nd / 4th / 4th / 3rd / 2nd and 1st. They had quite a pedigree.

When it came to the Fourth Round and we were demolishing South Shields, Tiverton were drawn away to another heavily fancied and indeed bankrolled club from Hastings known as Stamco. The game was played on a Sunday on an absolute pudding of a pitch and the final score was 4-3 to the hosts, and people who I know who were present at the game say it was one of the greatest footballing spectacles they have ever seen. In fact, a video of the highlights are on YouTube.


After that, Tiverton continued to be a huge force. They won the Vase in 1997-98 and again in 1998-99, and on the way to winning the second time they won a huge Semi-Final tie against deadly rivals Taunton Town 5-1 on aggregate. In the league in the following seasons they came 1st / 2nd / 1st / 1st and 2nd before finally making the move up to the Southern League.

They were certainly glory years at Ladysmead, crowds were big and legendary Manager Martyn Rogers could do no wrong. He’d built a simply awesome football team, with great players like the unstoppable striker Phil Everett who was named non-league footballer of the year at one stage, and one of the best footballers I’ve ever seen in the non-league game, high scoring midfielder Kevin Nancekivell.


Their promotion to the Southern League Western Division happened to coincide with a period in my life whereby I was working voluntarily for a website called Non-League On The Net. It was of its time and its shelf life was always going to be limited, but at the time it became THE place to go for all things non-league football. I was the Southern League lower division correspondent so I got to cover Tiverton Town, albeit remotely.

I did get to a couple of the games, but being Midlands based it was away games, Moor Green and Redditch United to be precise. They drew one and won one but I was blown away by the quality of their football. Tiverton missed out on promotion during their debut season largely due to a dip in form at a crucial stage, but the following season they finished runners-up and were promoted.


In their first two seasons of Southern League Premier football they finished sixth and fourth, before finding what seemed to be a natural position in mid-table for a number of years. Rogers moved on, relegation came, but then at the end of the 2016-17 season they won promotion again via the Play-Off’s, and then last season came a very creditable sixth in the Premier Division.

This is the thing though, Rogers is back in charge, but whereas crowds average around the 700-800 mark during the heady days of the late Nineties, they are now hovering around just over the 200 mark, and that must be a huge source of frustration for this great football club, in a town that is not small in terms of population.


So, it’s quite a long story, but I was fortunate to be following non-league football at a time when Tiverton Town were indeed the ‘mutts nuts’, and also, they were tipped for hige things. I can remember listening to BBC Radio Derby once around the time and Sports Editor Colin Gibson declared that Tiverton were going to be the next Rushden & Diamonds after they’d demolished one of our local sides Gresley Rovers in a Southern League game.

So why didn’t I ever go? Simple, it was too far. It’s only been the last few years that I’ve spread my wings in terms of the distances I’ll travel, and even then, a three hour drive each way was perhaps pushing it. What I was really waiting for was an opportunity to present itself, and after various holidays to Devon whereby it simply never fell right, this time it did!


The one game of the six game holiday marathon that I was looking forward to the most was Tiverton Town v Street, at Ladysmead on 4th August 2018, it was to be the tick at the top of my wish list, the culmination of 25 years of distant admiration, and also, just a 30 minute drive from Cofton!

Ladysmead is a truly superb non-league football ground. Located on the North side of the town centre, it’s tucked in amongst various retail and commercial units, just behind the rugby ground. The car park is quite small, but the clubhouse which is right in front of you is a large building, comprising of two function rooms and a tea bar area. What struck me on arrival was both the friendly welcome, and indeed the number of people decked in club colours performing duties. It had a very professional feel about it, I sensed Tiverton Town had very high standards off the pitch, probably stemming from a time when they had very high standards on it.

Once through the turnstiles, what you see before you is a relatively modern, but at the same time, classic non-league football ground. The Main Stand sits opposite and it’s decked with yellow and black seats in the club colours, while next to it in the bottom corner are the dressing rooms.

Opposite on the clubhouse side is some covered terracing which extends for around two thirds of the length of the pitch, albeit the terracing itself stretches the full length.

Behind both goals are large covered terraces, and it’s the fact that the ground is covered on all sides, which makes it feel like a ‘proper’ football ground. No disrespect to the Southern League, but this is a National League set up all day long, and is perhaps indicative of the ambitions the club may have had when they were on the rise.


A crowd of 160 assembled on a lovely day to watch Tivvy take on Western League Champions Street who were about to embark on a debut Southern League season themselves. For an hour Tivvy were the better team, and after leading 2-0 at half time they went on to make it 3-0, only for Street to find something extra in the tank and for the remainder of the game really take it to hosts. They scored twice with two well taken goals and at that stage you quite fancied them to snatch a draw, but in the closing seconds it was Tivvy who broke away to score a fourth and secure the victory.

So, I’d done it, I’d finally got to Tiverton, I’d finally got really close to a very special football club, with a history that very few at a similar level could even come close to emulating. I have to say at this stage, the man behind much of this success is Martyn Rogers, and when he does finally end his time at Ladysmead, I do hope he is truly recognised for what he has achieved.

I’ll be following Tivvy’s fortunes even more closely this season now, but as for the next club on my bucket list, well you know what, there isn’t anyone, and that perhaps says it all.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Last Rites


Bovey Tracey  7  Witheridge  2

Friendly

With the game due to kick off at 7.30pm, things were not looking especially good for visiting Witheridge.

They only had nine players at the ground, so after several discussions and some phone calls, it transpired that they were going to have to borrow a couple of players from the hosts for the game to commence with eleven players on each side.

Mill Marsh Park
A goalkeeper and outfield player were loaned, while 50 year old manager Roger Bonaparte was going to have to play a full ninety minutes up front, the situation was far from ideal, but, much more on that later.

Plans were fluid as the great Devon Pre-Season Friendly Holiday came towards the end of its marathon of six matches. With games being postponed and re-arranged on a fairly consistent basis, it was thanks to the excellent service provided by the South West Peninsula League’s supremo, Phil Hiscox, that the pre-season game thread on the forum was kept up to date, and this allowed me to spot a fixture that was taking place less than half an hour from base camp.

You Can Just About Spot The Terracing
Bovey Tracy is a small town just to the North of Newton Abbot, and is easily accessible from the dual carriageway that links Exeter with the West. The club have been members of the SWPL since 2008 and won promotion to the Premier Division in their first season, where they remained until 2015. Since then they’ve been back in the Eastern Division and last time out finished a very creditable third place.

The ground is just on the edge of the main A382 which links Newton Abbot with the A30, but it’s accessed from the town side of the road via Station Road and is located in Mill Marsh Park. The football ground is an enclosed arena, with floodlights (they play in the Vase), a clubhouse and both a seated and terraced stand on opposite sides of the pitch from each other. It’s a tidy venue, rural and indeed functional, while the pitch like many at the minute, was suffering a little from sunburn!

Witheridge were founder members of the SWPL in 2007, and have remained in the Premier Division ever since, so a league above Bovey Tracey. They finished bottom last season with just two wins, and a huge 159 goals conceded from 38 games. They avoided relegation though due to reprieves and such like, but unless a dramatic improvement was going to take place, you suspected it could have been another long hard season ahead of them.

Proper Fences
By kick off time with a bare eleven on the pitch, you kind of feared the worst a little bit, but, Witheridge surprised everyone by taking a two goal lead. This didn’t last though, and clearly with some very tired legs on the pitch for the visitors, an increasingly confident home team started to find the back of the net, and by the time the final goals went in to make it 7-2, you sensed Witheridge just wanted the final whistle to blow.

I did talk to some Witheridge supporters in the first half and they told me that a number of players had assured the Manager that they would be coming along to the game, but they either never turned up or simply made late excuses for non-attendance.

The Clubhouse
Just a few hours ago, when I was preparing to write this blog, Witheridge put out a tweet, and it read as follows

CLUB STATEMENT from Chris Cole. Dear Phil and the members of the board. We write this letter with great sadness but despite all the efforts of the club officers and management we have been unable to secure enough players to sustain a side in the SW Peninsula League and therefore with immense regret we would like to tender our resignation from the league. We would like to thank in particular the efforts of Roger Bonaparte, Peter North, Andy Comerford and those players who have shown some loyalty and commitment but feel it wise to make this decision now before teams suffer losing points and goals in the near future. We wish you all well for the forth coming season and hope maybe we will be able to take our place amongst the many friends we have made over the past 11 years.

So, that’s it, and I guess in the end it was somewhat inevitable, but at the same time it’s a sad indictment of what non-league football clubs are facing. If it’s not a lack of help and support off the pitch, it’s getting commitment from those that perform on it. Maybe it’s the way the World is going, I really don’t know.

The Shadows Lengthen Over Witheridge
I just hope that on that night I saw a sorry Witheridge do their best to take the field and compete at Bovey Tracey, it wasn’t the last game they’ll ever play. Like clubs before, let’s just hope they can go away, regroup and come again. I’m sure they will.

In the meantime, Bovey Tracey looked good, albeit it wasn’t by any means an easy game to judge them in, and maybe, just maybe, they can be one of the teams that pushes for a return to Step 6 come the end of the season.